Thursday, 8 December 2016

Egyptian encounter

Went to see the renovated Egyptian exhibition and the Valley of the Queens exhibition in the ancient history museum in town. Really well done, lovely stuff on display. Text is slowly disappearing from museums, to get people to hire the audio tour, but there is enough to go round.

Bes, dwarf god
I'm surprised at the breadth of objects available now and the depth of knowledge that we seem to have reconstructed of this age. The beauty of objects that have remained fairly intact over 4,000 years still amazes me.

Taweret, hippopotamus goddess
Revisited my old friends Bes and Taweret, Egyptians god that were mostly revered in the household as defenders of the children. There were two exceptionally beautiful statues last summer in the British Museum, but these examples are probably closer to what real people kept in their homes.

Queen Hatshepsut, Pharao
The Queens of the Valley has some wonderful stuff about the few women that became pharaos themselves, about court life, the workers that built the monuments in the Valley of the Queens and the burial site of queen Nefertiti.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

The Dutch army under Napoleon

Also in, this great book on the Dutch army under the Kingdom of Holland. This period was the last step between the foundation of a Batavian revolutionary republic under French protection in 1795 and full incorporation into the French empire in 1810.

With Napoleon's brother Louis put on the throne in 1806, the country seemed already well under French control. But Louis' genuine considerations for the interests of the Dutch people ensured that neither Napoleon was satisfied nor the Dutch.

Given Napoleon's focus on the military contribution of the Dutch to his overall war effort, the army was always going to be a breaking point. Louis' four years in charge failed to bring a balance between Napoleon's demands for a bigger army and the Dutch ability to pay for expansion and provide the necessary recruits.

Which is why Napoleon finally decided to be done with and independent state.

Christiaan van der Spek looks at the Dutch room for manoeuvre in military policy during independence, and also to which extent the Dutch maintained a separate identity, first within the French sphere of influence and later within the empire.

Will be an interesting read.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Return to Das Volk

Played a second game of Wir Sind Das Volk last Friday, this time as the Ossies. The game is quite unforgiving of mistakes on the East German side as it causes a cascade of negative effects at the end of a decade.

Refugees and police state all degrade your economy, then pull the foundations from under your living standard, which in turn degrades your industry. This means you really need to play the East very conservatively, because the cost of having to rebuild again is aggravated by the fact that your maximum is reduced, making you weaker in the long term. And the opportunity cost means that you lose the ability to put pressure on your opponent.

Needless to say, I got my ass kicked again this game. I'm still not 'getting' it.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

The politics of Native American warfare

Native American warfare had a different context to it than than the modern nation state and of the colonial powers that it faced. Given the extreme fragmentation of political power, the kind of unified effort that the British crown or even the fledgling United States were capable of was way out of reach for the tribes.

Warrior individuality

Even at the level of the tribe power was decentralised. Each warrior was largely independent in his actions and although they could submit themselves to war leaders, there was little formal power to enforce their co-operation. It could take days to work towards some level of consensus, but there was no guarantee that all able warriors would join in an endeavour.

The mirror image of this was that even if the community chose peace, individual warriors (the “young and irresponsible”) could still continue raiding. For young warriors, warfare was the best opportunity to manifest themselves and gain acceptance and status among the adults. The result was that Europeans, with their experience of hierarchic society, assumed the leadership could not be trusted and that low level conflict could escalate against the majority’s wishes.

There is some danger in generalising about political organisation of Indian tribes, as there was a wide variety. Within certain tribes political power was divided between peace chief and war chiefs. Also in some tribes, women had considerable political influence, joining in the political deliberations.

Tribal independence

We also have to consider that tribes were generally quite small. Their warriors were counted in the hundreds, suggesting that most tribes numbered less than 5,000 men, women and children. We’ll come to the economic consequences of this later, but to assemble a significant force to oppose the more populous colonists, tribes needed to co-operate.

Given that the tribes often had their own languages and customs, tribes considered themselves as distinct as European nations. There wasn’t a natural overarching feeling of shared interest between the tribes. Tribes were determined to control their own destiny.

Even an informal hierarchy between the tribes was often lacking. The only major exception was the semi-permanent alliance of the six Iroquois tribes, and they extended their dominion over other tribes in the early 18th century, notably in the Ohio territory.

Movement over wide distances also prevented fast decision making. To gather all delegations from all relevant tribes, sometimes appointments would have to be made many months in advance to meet at a prearranged location.

And then the same time consuming deliberations took place as at the tribal level. All this made co-operation between the tribes a complex and time consuming process.


But the most powerful dynamic was the colonial rivalry between France, Britain, Spain and later the United States.

At the earliest stages of colonisation, the traders and settlers had been dependent on Native Americans offering their goods for trade and support for marginal settlements in a harsh environment. The Europeans had useful goods and knowledge to offer as well, so that relations tended to equality and mutual benefit. They could also make useful allies and tip the balance in war between the tribes.

But as empires clashed from the early 18th century, the roles started to reverse and Indians became auxiliaries to colonial forces. Their support was bought by gifts of strategic goods like guns and ammunition, but also status goods like alcohol. Indian tribes became increasingly dependent on these goods.

Even at the most basic level could colonial rivalries tear tribes apart. Those that controlled the entrance of gifts into the tribe (in some cases the war leaders that had most contacts with outsiders) gained power.

Of course, the fragmented authority had similar consequences for the colonial powers trying to gain Native American allies or to make peace. Negotiations were long drawn out affairs in which hundreds might participate.

The colonial dynamic came to affect the intertribal relations as well as tribes were forced to take sides in imperial wars. The Iroquois confederation lost its dominion over the Ohio tribes during French and Indian Wars and then fell apart during the American Revolution. It never recovered from internecine warfare as those loyal to Great Britain retreated to Canada.

And choosing the wrong side would have harsh consequences. Land would have to be ceded which meant that the tribe became even more dependent on gifts. And with the disappearance of first France and then Great Britain, tribes lost the ability to play off suitors against each other.

By the end of the 18th century therefore large alliances seemed the only hope to retain independence and land, while the more pessimistic advocated peaceful accommodation to delay the inevitable. Both the 1790-1795 and the 1811 wars saw coalitions of unprecedented numbers of Indian tribes.

But in many cases the rifts by then ran through the tribes. And as long as the Indians couldn’t all decide on one course, both strategies worked against each other.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The Second Front of the Revolutionary War

If you read military histories of the revolutionary war, the focus tends to be on the campaigns against the British, and you might conclude that most tribes took the British side but that their contribution was limited to the Great Lakes region.

However, Ray Raphael’s The American Revolution. A People’s History opened my eyes to the varied reaction of Native Americans to the war. Difficult choices were made from New England down to Florida. And fundamentally, most tribes were trying to stay out of the war, which they didn’t consider as their own.

Yet, few tribes managed to avoid the conflict. The Abenakis along the border with Canada managed to keep both sides at arms length by taking it slow and occasionally switching allegiance. Although this gave them a reputation for unreliability on both sides of the border, in this way they kept losses low.

Likewise the Chickasaw, although friendly to the British, managed to stay out of the fray because they weren’t in the front line. Only when the Americans built a fortress on their borders did they take action and drove off the garrison.

The fate of the Iroquois, the once mighty confederacy, was possibly the most tragic. Bound to the British after 1763 they accepted an American offer of neutrality in 1775 and avoided conflict until 1777. But then the confederacy fell apart with the Oneidas and Tuscaroras siding with the rebels and the other tribes with the British.

They fought each other as auxiliaries of their allies at the bloody battles of Oriskany and Wyoming. The punitive expedition by general Sullivan’s continentals through the Iroquois heartlands in 1779 destroyed the fabric of the tribes which then became totally dependent on British support. At the end of the war, they retreated to Canada.

The Ohio tribes, such as the Delaware, Mingo and Shawnee, also inexorably got drawn into the conflict. In 1777 violent incidents escalated and by 1778 raiding terrorised the settlements in the region. In 1781 a large punitive expedition laid the Native American towns to waste, bringing the tribes to heel.

The Cherokee honoured their ties to British and attacked in 1776. However, as there was no British threat in the southern states at the time, the militias from four states were available to stage a punitive expedition, destroying many Cherokee towns and crops. Although the majority of the tribe, forced by hunger, accepted a humiliating peace, part of the tribe split off and migrated west.

There were a few tribes that sided with the rebels from the start, most notably the Catawbas in the Carolinas. Their contribution to the cause was fully recognised by the Americans but they became marginalised nevertheless and seem to have disappeared by the middle of the 19th century.

The Seminoles even seem to have prospered as a result of the war. Living in Spanish territory, they were not being targeted directly themselves. But more importantly, they welcomed many new members of the tribe by accepting black runaway slaves.

This gives me the impression that there was in fact an active second front on the western border of the United States, tying up valuable manpower. You might imagine that if the British had been able to coordinate their actions better with those of the Native Americans, it could have had better results than it did now. On the other hand, it is unlikely to have swung the war in British favour, thus leaving the loyal tribes as high and dry after the war as they were historically.

Given the desperate state of the British cause and the long standing distrust between Native Americans and settlers, no tribe in the east could escape from the conflict and although some managed to limit the damage, most lost many warriors and were forced to cede land in the end.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Blog recommendation: How to kill a rational peasant

Just a notice that Brian Train put a very interesting post on his blog. It brings together three strands of interest for me: theories about rational peasants that I encountered during my PhD research, Adam Curtis BBC blog, one of the most fascinating documentary makers I've come across and Brian Train himself, a game designer whose approach and integrity I admire. If you are interested in counterinsurgency, the war in Vietnam, or even just the small part that gaming played in it, then this is a must-read/view

Monday, 28 November 2016

Paint it black

Quite some time since I last picked up the paintbrush, but I cleared up some space on a table so I can leave it where it is and have a good lamp close by.

Started and finished a bunch of riflemen and black militia members. The ones in the long coats would probably end up with northern units. The ones in shirt sleeves in the south.

In the former case they probably fought on the American side, where manpower shortage saw the enlistment of quite a few free blacks and slaves, who did so because this meant a job and a chance to be freed after service. Didn't always work out that way apparently according to Ray Raphael's brilliant The American Revolution. A People's History.

Raphael also shows how in the latter case, tens of thousands of southern slaves escaped from the plantations to the freedom promised them by the British. They joined the British and loyalist units, or accompanied them as servants. Many died of hunger and disease and by the time of the British retreat, they were often left to their own devices.

Jim Piecuch, in his Cavalry of the American Revolution devotes an article to the Black Dragoons, a cavalry unit composed of and led by escaped slaves in South Carolina. They appear to have performed to the satisfaction of the British, but their existence enraged the white planters in the south, making it less likely that they would accept a return of British rule.

As far as  I am concerned, A People's History is an indispensable companion to the military history of the American revolution. Apart from showing how blacks could end up fighting on both sides, there's good stuff on the role of women, native Americans, Loyalists and common American males sympathetic to the revolution. It shows how this war affected them, but also, how they tried to make the best of it, or even turn it to their advantage.

I'll come back to this book, because it was an eye opener for me on the vastly different experiences of native American tribes. But worth every penny and widely available in second hand.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

A first taste of the people

'Wird Sind Das Volk' was the rallying cry of the protests that heralded the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the German Democratic Republic. In 1990 it was amalgamated into the Federal Republic of Germany, until then widely known as Western Germany.

The game by the same name tackles the economic and political struggle between the two Germanies and it does so exceedingly well. Using the card driven mechanisms popularised by Hannibal, Paths of Glory and Twilight Struggle, the game is mostly a struggle between an embattled communist economy and a capitalist powerhouse. Once the contrast between western luxuries and eastern austerity becomes too big, the DDR will collapse in protest.

But there are twists. The West is not without its own problems and protests will erupt there too.

As in a good card driven game, players fret about which card to play and how to use it. Each turn a player picks a card and decides whether to use it for the event or the economic points. The former will pull several levers at once (the inflow of foreign currency to the DDR, international prestige, socialist party cadres, protests, economic boom and bust), and the economic points can be spent on building infrastructure, increasing the standard of living or removing protesters.

And the fun part in a card driven game based on the recent past is thinking whether you can remember the historical events on the cards.

I like how some of the cards are a double edged sword, pushing you up one track and down another. Sometimes it's better to pick the card that can harm you if picked by your opponent, sometimes you have the luxury of choosing between several favourable cards. But luckily the best short term option is pretty clear in most cases, preventing too much analysis paralysis.

In my maiden game, last Tuesday, I left a weak spot that was exploited mercilessly by my opponent. Had I immediately understood the gravity of the situation I might have saved it, but I didn't see how. That left me on the back foot that left the DDR able to comfortably weather the storms of the 1980s, even if the Wall did fall.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Another bunch of books

Having been gifted a few book coupons, I ordered a few books off my wishlist. The book on the Grande Armée in Germany has been on the list for over a year. Based on numerous first hand accounts and archives I'm interested in the way the French behaved as an occupation force, but also on it's relations with the population.

And with the coming of Project 217 (the as yet still mysterious project about ancient warfare around 217 BC), I decided to finally order the 3rd edition of the De Bellis Antiquitatis rules for ancient warfare. I still think that it is a very innovative rule set that regretfully developed in the wrong direction.

If I return to ancients wargaming, it will be in 6mm using DBA. I just don't have the time for painting another large army and learning a complicated tactical rule set that feels more like recreating Napoleonic warfare than ancient.

And it was just a bit to easy to just add the newest edition of Hordes of the Things, the fantasy version of DBA. By the way check out this fantastic blog that shows how incredibly creative people can be in designing their HotT armies. Or have a look at the HotT facebook group. Pure joy.

I had also ordered a book on maroons in North America, after reading a very interesting article on the maroons in the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia.

And as I went to pick that up, I just happened to look at the new Ospreys just in and I was kind of spineless.The campaign book on the Battle of the Thames is a kind of a no-brainer since it covers the Indian part of the War of 1812.

I am also quite fond of the work of Sean McLachlan, who does thorough historical research and occasionally combines it with interesting fiction. I was happy to pick up his combat series instalment on the Apache warrior vs US cavalryman. An interesting contest and it seems McLachlan has done a good job on both sides.

That said, the third booklet will be the proof on how the combat series is doing because King's African Rifles vs Schutztruppe Soldier might expose the weaknesses of the series by pitting two similar troop types against each other, but might also show interesting differences in their deployment by their colonial masters. Anyway, a much understudied topic in itself.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Last post before the AWI battle

(AWI project retrospective, part 9)

I wrote this post at the end of an evening where I had based my prospective army for the big battle. It’s the worst job I can think of in preparing a wargaming army. I resent it like nothing else. And yet, this meant that I was about to finish the job. There was this relaxed sense that I would make this deadline.

And not just make it. Sunday morning sun rising, I had ready all four regiments of Smallwood’s brigade present at the battle of Camden. And more: woodland Indians, Stockbridge Indians and surplus militia. That was far beyond what I had thought to achieve when starting on this journey almost a year before. I even slipped in painting three Dark Age houses.

That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a pile of pewter and plastic left waiting for me still. Some last Indians and militia, several units of British and loyalist troops and the 2nd South Carolina regiment. But that was all beyond the task I had set myself, so no worries there. I was just proud of my achievement irrespective of the outcome of the game.

In further developments in preparation for the big day, I did manage another test game of Land of the Free. This was very useful. Needless to say I got my behind handed to me by Patrick. SO I decided to read through the rules again and again, because I kept finding rules I’d overlooked or misinterpreted.

Apart from the painting challenge and the rules, and in direct contradiction to my intentions at the start, this has turned into a reading project as well. Over a dozen Ospreys somehow came into my possession, and a further dozen paper and digital books on the AWI. And somehow I managed to read most of them.

I was first infatuated with the militia side of the war; then the Indian conflict grabbed my attention. Four of the books I bought on my summer holiday to the UK dug deeper into the subject. I discovered the Black Dragoons of South Carolina, and how choosing to become a loyalist sometimes depended more on the side that the people you hated chose, than on your ideology.

But the crown on my reading spree has been Barbarians & Brothers by Wayne Lee, a brilliant book weaving together the civil and colonial wars in England, Ireland and North America from the 16th to the 19th century. Lee explains how conflicts between civilians and between cultures turned much more violent than between regulars. This clash of regular soldiers, warriors and citizens in these centuries, and more specifically in the AWI, has proved a fascinating discovery that I had not expected a year ago.

That legacy will endure.

This blog was first published on the Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy blog on August 23rd 2016